Texas Tech University

Researcher Wins CPRIT Grant to Study How Protein Repairs DNA

Glenys Young

March 19, 2018

Michael Latham hopes his work will lead to new anti-cancer therapies.

A Texas Tech University researcher in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry has received an $850,876 grant from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) to study a protein complex's role in repairing damaged DNA.

Michael Latham
Michael Latham

Michael Latham, an assistant professor, is focused on the protein complex Mre11-Rad50 (MR), which recognizes and begins the process of fixing breaks in our DNA. The CPRIT grant will fund Latham's research on how MR achieves these complex activities.

“We experience several thousand of this type of damage to our DNA every day, and if it is not correctly repaired, diseases such as cancer can arise,” Latham explained. “MR, which is present in every organism on the planet, is one of the first-responders to this damage. The MR complex has many activities it uses in this role. One of these is a nuclease, an enzyme that degrades DNA, to help prepare the site of damage for repair. Other activities include holding the broken DNA together and telling the cell there is a problem.”

Latham said MR is important to study because random mutations of the complex have been found in certain types of cancer, including breast, ovarian and colorectal cancers.

“No one knows the effect some of these mutations have on the functions of MR,” he said. “This question is not only important for understanding how these sporadic mutations might lead to or promote cancer. We can also use this information as a way to fight cancer.”

Latham's research group will study the protein complex using nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, which allows them to determine the structure of molecules in solution; biochemical assays to understand the protein's function; and assays in yeast cells to help them begin to understand how the structure and functional data come together in the cell.

“Our goal is twofold,” Latham said. “First, we want to know what the three-dimensional structure of the MR complex bound to a piece of broken DNA looks like. If we can understand that structure, it goes a long way to helping us understand how all of the functions work together.

“The second goal is to study mutations that have been observed in cancer. We think these studies will tell us what activities are turned off because the protein has been changed, help us learn more about the tie between structure and function, and could possibly point toward novel anti-cancer therapeutics.”

Latham's grant was part of the $73.5 million CPRIT awarded this year for research that advances the fight against cancer.

“Needless to say, we are very excited to get this grant,” Latham said. “It is a great honor to have received the third-ever CPRIT Single Investigator Award here at Texas Tech. This funding will allow us to really tackle some important questions relating to how the MR complex works.”

About the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas

To date, CPRIT has awarded $1.95 billion in grants to Texas researchers, institutions and organizations. CPRIT provides funding through its academic research, prevention and product development research programs. Programs made possible with CPRIT funding have reached all 254 counties of the state, brought more than 150 distinguished researchers to Texas, advanced scientific and clinical knowledge and provided more than 4 million life-saving education, training, prevention and early detection services to Texans.


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